About the design challenge
There are an estimated 12.5 million homes in the United States that use wood or pellets for space heating, according to the US Energy Information Agency. As of 2018, the US Census said that 1.9% of homes use wood for primary heating but noted that in many more rural counties more than 16% of homes use it as a primary heat source. For 2.7 million homes, they serve as primary heaters, and for about 9 million, they serve as secondary heaters.
The popularity of wood stoves stems from a variety of factors, including the widespread availability of free or low-cost fuel, functionality during electric outages or off-grid, the replacement of fossil fuel, cost savings of heating core of the home and the appeal of having a fire to gather around. Wood stoves are also experiencing a surge in popularity, starting in 1973 during the oil embargo, and bolstered by periodic high prices of oil, more frequent severe weather events, the interest in renewable energy and other drivers.
A domestic heat source
Many of the best wood stoves in the world capable of primary home heating are made in the US. This is the result of decades of experience of stove manufacturers meeting stricter emission standards in third party labs that use federal testing protocols. Federal emission certification standards, dating back to 1988, preceded federal standards in almost all European countries, giving our industry a head start in designing and deploying secondary air tubes and catalysts, which are still the primary tools for post-combustion emission reduction. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has also begun to provide modest R&D assistance to modernize the wood heating sector to help US made stoves be even cleaner and more efficient.
Incentive for wood heat innovation
Increased engagement and R&D in the stove community will help bolster US leadership in this sector and increase the export of US stoves. Most importantly, it will accelerate the design and deployment of clean and more efficient wood and pellet heaters in the United States.
Domestically, state renewable energy incentive programs, the increased interest in stove change out programs and the possibility of federal change out funding are helping to bolster sales and give manufacturers incentives to design and build more efficient wood and pellet stoves that meet the frequent stricter eligibility requirements of these programs.
These opportunities need innovative technology solutions, and collaborative input from experts at air quality agencies, industry, academic institutions and non-profits to ensure that wood heating technology continues as a mainstream renewable energy option in our changing energy landscape. Competitions, such as the Wood Stove Design Challenge and the Vesta Award have served as an impetus to innovate and to reward and recognize manufacturers for their innovation.